It might surprise you to find a wood listed as a good dragonfly site, but in fact Mousehold has an enviable list of species: Common Blue, Azure, Large Red and Blue-tailed damselflies, Emperor, Brown, Southern and Migrant Hawkers, Common Darters, Black-tailed Skimmers and Broad-bodied Chasers have all have been recorded here, and most are common.
This is entirely due to the Vinegar Pond - a small shallow scrape at the top of the wood. Considering how shallow this scrape is, we find it impossible to believe that all these species are emerging here. Indeed, although egg-laying has been observed we have yet to find any evidence of emergence, and we suspect that the dragonflies are colonising the site each year from somewhere else, but time will tell.
In 2006 this pond dried up completely, and as a result nearly all the species disappeared: however, Emperors and Black-tailed Skimmers continues to hunt the heath behind the pond. We have left the tour details below unchanged in the hope that next year brings a recovery - but at the moment this site is a far cry from that described.
2007 Update: Although the pond dried up in April, By June it had refilled and currently hosts Azure, Broad-bodied Chaser and breeding Emperors.
DirectionsAlthough Mousehold Heath is in two halves, split by Gurney Road, we are only going to deal with the Western half. There are two car parks for Mousehold: One accessed from Gurney Road - on the left as you go away from Norwich just as the road levels out; and one accessed from Gilman Rd, via Sprowston Rd - from Sprowston Rd turn into Gilman Rd by the Lazer House, follow the road round then take the right and the entrance is immediately on your left. Both entrances are protected by wooden bars to prevent tall vehicles from entering.
TourWhile the whole heath is well worth wandering over, we will restrict ourselves to reaching the Vinegar Pond. From Gilman Road: Walk up the hill and at the top continue forward. The path bends to the right and will lead you directly to the pond. From Gurney Road: Enter the heath from the car park via the entrance directly away from the road. Go down into the gully and up the other side. Walking forward you will come to a fairly well defined wide path. Follow this until it ends down a slight ditch. Go up the opposite side and follow the path, past several benches till you reach the pond.
As well as damselflies in the reeds, you should see the male broad-bodied chasers patrolling the edges of the pond - the females may be found most frequently lurking in the tops of gorse bushes around the area. Although the pond only admits of one patrolling emperor, the other males can frequently be found in the area behind and to your left if you regard the pond from the direction shown in the photograph above. The name Vinegar pond is derived from the red algae which blooms occasionally in this pond - turning the water brown like vinegar. This can be useful in telling which females have been laying eggs recently as their abdomens will be stained.
Hawkers can be encountered throughout the heathland areas of Mousehold, as can common darters. Other wildlife to be seen include a wide variety of butterflies: Green Hairstreak breed in the gorse and Speckled Wood, Holly and Common Blues, Red Admiral, Peacocks, Small Tortoishells, Brimstone, Small Heath, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Comma, Orange Tip, Painted Lady, Small Skipper, Large and Small Whites and Small Copper have all been recorded. (There's even been a record of a Swallowtail here!). Jays and Sparrowhawks, Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers and all the common woodland birds can be seen. The heath supports common lizard and grass snakes and the pond itself supports an enormous number of frogs - they live out on the heath but once a year in March they congregate on the pond for a mass orgy which leaves the pond brimming with frog spawn. It really is an amazing sight to see the pond literally filled with frogs.